Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Science of Fantasy Mapmaking

Aurealis #99 is out and it features a discussion between a geologist and a geographer (aka yours truly and the incredible Russell Kirkpatrick) about maps in fantasy novels.

I really enjoyed writing this article with Russell for several reasons: first, I love maps and used do produce them as part of my job. Second, I like Russell and respect his work, and third, it's a super-interesting topic

What I didn't realise when I first spoke to Russell about doing a piece together, was the depth of Russell's understanding of the politics and social infrastructure behind the act of creating a map.

My experience of mapmaking has been limited to:
1) reproducing my favourite faux-medieval maps from movies and/or books via a combination of pain-staking precision and ad-hoc half-assery; and
2) the production of geological, geophysical and geochemical maps designed to aid in the discovery of economically viable mineral deposits.

The two don't naturally go hand-in-hand, but there you go.

Russell, on the other hand, is a professional and academic map-maker. He gained a PhD in Geography in 1991, and spent the 1990s working on a series of atlas projects, such as the New Zealand Historical Atlas, before going on to lecture on social cartography at university. His first novel was published in in 2003, and he went on to write a whole lot more.

Russell's thoughts on when a map should, or should not, appear in a novel, on what a map may or may not contain, on what makes a good map, and what constitutes a dismal failure, are some of the most astute I've read. Russell schooled me (in the nicest way) on several points during the process of putting the piece together and I learned a lot through our discussions on several key points.

In short, if you're writing a fantasy novel and thinking of including a map, you need to read this article and carefully consider Russell's point of view.

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